Groups renew aid reform push

Seven months after the University announced substantial changes to undergraduate financial aid, the student groups that were most active last year in pushing for change say the reforms were not enough and are drafting proposals for further additions to Yale’s aid package.

The Yale College Council will soon introduce a resolution calling on the administration to reduce the student contribution — currently at $4,400 for the academic year — and to make low-income recruiting a more important and lasting part of the undergraduate admissions process. In addition, at a meeting on Sunday, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee planned a campaign to push for changes by, among other methods, canvassing all freshmen on campus and heightening their awareness of financial aid.

The UOC said it will seek a decrease in the student contribution, the enhanced prioritization of financial aid students in finding on-campus jobs, and training for freshman counselors so they can better advise on financial aid matters. UOC members will vote on the plan at a meeting Wednesday.

Those at yesterday’s UOC meeting acknowledged the improvements Yale made during the previous academic year to its aid policy, which include eliminating the family contribution for students from families earning less than $45,000 a year, reducing it for those with incomes between $45,000 and $60,000, and launching a broader recruiting effort for low-income students. But UOC members said they think that Yale could go further with its reforms and establish itself firmly as a leader among its peers when it comes to financial aid.

“What Yale, Harvard and Princeton do is inter-relevant,” UOC member Phoebe Rounds ’07 said. “It’s clearly an issue that matters to Yale … because it’s about the national prestige of the school.”

Administrators said they are open to suggestions, but they stressed the need to carefully review any change in financial aid policy before implementing it.

“We will want to do whatever we can do to continue to make Yale broadly accessible, but we shouldn’t expect that the University’s budget will allow us to make new financial aid moves of the size we made last year every year,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said.

Acting Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Margit Dahl said top administrators are eager to hear student input.

“I think President [Richard] Levin and the financial aid subcommittee are very sensitive to the financial aid pressures students are under, but the decision to change the self-help levels can’t be taken lightly because it represents a tremendous level of money for the institution,” she said.

The YCC planned to vote on a financial aid resolution at its meeting last night, but YCC President Steven Syverud ’06 tabled the resolution in favor of taking more time to obtain feedback informally. Council members will talk with students before the YCC issues a formal proposal.

Syverud said the YCC’s proposal would likely ask the administration to lower the student contribution, as well as reaffirm the importance of making the newly-created Student Ambassadors Program — a recruitment program which targets low-income high school students — a permanent part of the admissions process.

Last spring, Syverud authored a wide-ranging financial aid proposal which chiefly asked the University to reduce the family contribution and student self-help components.

Though the changes Yale made in financial aid policy last year are laudable, Syverud said, there is still work to be done. He said lowering the student contribution is not only important as a means to allow students on financial aid to have more time for class work and extracurriculars, but also as a symbolic move to make the University more appealing to low-income students.

“One part of drawing low and middle income students is financial aid policy — making that policy clear and making it clear that those students can afford this school,” Syverud said.

He said YCC members have already begun to mention their ideas regarding financial aid proposals to administrators, and have made it clear that the council intends to work to turn their proposal into policy once their resolution is passed.

Meanwhile, the UOC is busy recruiting freshmen to join its effort. Charles Alvarez ’09, who attended the UOC meeting yesterday, said that if it were not for the reforms, his family would have much more of a financial burden, since under the new financial aid policy, his family contribution has been eliminated.

The UOC is planning to push aggressively for the University to consider some aspects of its platform left over from last year, most importantly a reduction in the student contribution.

“We have strong elements of last year’s platform that have not been addressed by the University yet,” UOC member Noah Dobin-Bernstein ’06 said. “Those will be a significant part of the new platform.”

Last year, the UOC mounted a campaign that culminated in February with a sit-in at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions on Hillhouse Avenue.

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